What pops into your head when I mention “Sodom and Gomorrah”? Do you think of social/sexual issues, fire and brimstone and Lot’s wife becoming a pillar of salt? This Genesis account is frequently used to explain how angry God is with sinners; but this one-sided view of God troubles me because it leaves out God’s mercy. How do we reconcile the story of Sodom and Gomorrah with Psalm 100:5 which states God is always good?
As I researched this topic, I began to realize one reason why this story appears one-sided is due to the emphasis we as a society place on certain elements in the story. What if instead of fire and brimstone, the story’s true focus illustrates God’s redemption of a good man who made poor choices? Is it possible to see the God of the Old Testament as the God of Love even in a story like Sodom and Gomorrah? I believe the answer is yes. Context and emphasis are key to fully grasping the depth of this story and the characters involved. Let’s take a closer look.
The Genesis account of Sodom and Gomorrah begins with two men named Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrews, and Lot, his nephew. As with many stories in the Bible, God’s relationship to His people takes center stage, and the places and events that occur during the around the main characters frame the story. The Bible states Abraham obeyed God with his life and his decisions. In contrast, Lot made plenty of poor choices. Both men are referred to by the Scriptures as “righteous”, but Lot’s lapses in judgement nearly get him killed and followed his family line throughout history. Below is a timeline of events.
Timeline of Poor Decisions, Consequences and Mercy:
Lot Chooses the Best Land for Himself: Early in the Genesis account, we learn Abraham and Lot were forced to divide the region in which they lived because their wealth, herds and households had grown too large to share the same land. When Abraham gave his nephew first pick, Lot chose the lush and fertile land stretching towards Egypt. This region included the large, glamorous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. This poor decision would be the first of many as it positioned Lot closely to the temptations he found hardest to resist — the lure of fame, fortune and acceptance among the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Lot Tries to Fit In: Lot moved his home to Sodom, hoping to find favor with the people who lived there; however, he never really “fit in” because they knew he wasn’t like them. Instead, they thought of him as a hypocrite. Peter tells us in the New Testament Lot was “distressed…” and “tormented…” by the people of Sodom (II Peter 2:7-8). This attitude reveals a lot about Lot’s righteous character. The Bible describes the people there as prideful; gluttonous; willfully ignorant of the plight of the poor, oppressed, orphaned and widowed; adulterous; dishonest; unjust; and wicked (summarized from Ezekiel 16:49, Jeremiah 23, Isaiah 1, and Amos 5).
Lot Becomes a Prisoner of War: Almost immediately after Lot moved to Sodom, war broke out among the neighboring kings. As a result of the war, the invading kings conquered and took Lot prisoner and stole all of his possessions.
This part of the story is interesting, because according to cultural experts, Abraham was not required to rescue Lot due to the circumstances surrounding his capture. However, out of mercy and love, Abraham reclaimed and restored his nephew, the city’s captives and all of Lot’s stolen possessions.
Abraham’s Christ-Like Plea: At the climax of the story, the Lord tells Abraham the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah was so great He sent two angels to bear witness, and if they agreed, He would destroy the cities. In response, Abraham begged for mercy on behalf of the people living there because he cared about them but also feared for Lot’s safety (Genesis 18:16-33; 19:1-29). God agreed to spare the cities if there was even one righteous person living there. However, since there were no righteous people except for Lot living there, God vowed to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because their wickedness had become too great. The Bible says God “remembered His promise to Abraham” and sent His angels to rescue Lot.
Lot Offers His Daughters to an Angry Mob: When the angels arrived in Sodom, an angry mob of men pressed against Lot’s front door and demanded for Lot to allow the crowd to gang rape them. In Lot’s day, it was a customary norm and obligation to protect his guests at all costs. As a gesture to appease the men, he offered his daughters to fulfill the sexual desires of the mob. Thankfully, the mob refused Lot’s daughters. This part of the story was likely included for us an example of the level of depravity and darkness that filled the people’s hearts.
If you are wondering at this stage how the Bible can still refer to Lot as righteous, you’re not alone. As we’ve seen up to this point in the story, Lot has seemly committed an unforgivable and egregious crime against his own family, but God saw a man who believed in the coming Messiah and was worth saving despite his failures. If you want to read more about this section of the story, check out this link: http://www.gotquestions.org/Lots-daughters.html. I found it very helpful when trying to understand the context and cultural influences.
Lot is Rescued by Angels: Since Lot refused to present the angels to the angry mob, they became infuriated with Lot and beat on the door of his house and lunged at him, requiring the angels to blind the men and pull Lot inside to save his life.
During the night, the angels informed Lot that God intended to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their level of wickedness and he needed to flee with his family as soon as possible.
The next morning, the angels took Lot and his family by the hands and fled from Sodom. Although Lot hesitated, the Lord was merciful and spared his life and the lives of his family. Unfortunately, although the angels warned the family not to look back upon the cities as they fled, Lot’s wife was unable to resist the temptation to look a final time upon the city she loved. As a result, the Bible says she became a pillar of salt.
Lot Gets Drunk and Makes More Poor Decisions: And if you thought Lot’s decisions couldn’t get any worse, the story ends with Lot getting drunk and sleeping with his daughters. As a result, the two nations produced from this incestuous act have been a thorn in the side of Israel throughout history (GotQuestions.Org, http://www.gotquestions.org/Lots-daughters.html).
Lessons Learned: The story of Lot gives me hope. The Bible points out Lot’s numerous character flaws to teach us about His grace and about the importance of good decision making as a person of God. Lot was blinded by the temptations of wealth, the “big city” and positional stature. He temporarily walked away from his godly lifestyle for the sake of appearances; but in his heart, he longed to escape the sin that trapped him. As a result, he suffered the consequences of his choices by losing his wife, status and all of his material possessions; but his life was spared from destruction. In summary, Lot made poor decisions, but God chose to redeem him in spite of his failures.
Parallels: In some ways, this story parallels Christ’s work on the cross. God had mercy for Lot and saved his life because of the pleas of his uncle to spare him.
God always choses mercy over judgment, completely consistent with His character; and it is another lesson on how we should treat others who fail us.
Does physical evidence of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed by fire still exist today? Here is an interesting argument on the issue: “Is there any evidence for the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction by fire and brimstone (sulfur)? “, ChristianAnswers.Net
Peace, love and hope to you always,
The In-Place Missionary